Foodie Fan Fest

 

The Alhambra at night, as seen from the deck of our Granada apartment.

The Alhambra at night, as seen from the deck of our Granada apartment.

I’m just back from a glorious trip to the Andalucia region of Spain. The trip included a brief stint in London, where I got to enjoy a jet-lagged, yet wonderful meal at the Islington branch of Ottolenghi.

The next installment of Slice of Mid-Life will be all about that trip and the wonderful food we ate. I’m still marveling at the fact that Spaniards eat five times a day and late into the night, but don’t seem to get fat.

Until then, I wanted to share this brief interview I did with Molly Wizenberg, author of the wonderful food blog Orangette, who has a new book out this month. She’s at a very different stage of life than I am and it’s fun to see how she manages the interplay of food, art and motherhood. I admire her very much.

I hope you’ll think of this brief article as a tapa, in anticipation of the feast to come. Here’s the link:

Someone You Should Know: Molly Wizenberg

All-you-can-eat paella on the beach at Nerja.

All-you-can-eat paella on the beach at Nerja.

 

 

Fruits and Nuts and Flakes and Seeds and Teenagers

I’ve realized for a few weeks that it is high time I wrote a post about food and I’d been planning one about the satisfactions of slow-cooked pork and slowly-developed friendships  (Be forewarned, I’m also planning a post about mid-life belly fat).

But ideas have a way of taking root, like seedlings, and, based on my consumption of late, and particularly this week, I feel compelled to tell you about the way I am eating now.  The comedian Gallagher once said:  “California is like a bowl of granola.  What ain’t fruits and nuts is flakes.” In addition to dried fruits, nuts and flakes (coconut flakes, that is) I’ve been eating lots of oats and seeds and therefore have been spending a lot of time in the bulk section of the grocery store.

So I think I’ll do what the smart bloggers do: write the post about slow-cooked pork and save it for a week when I’m busy or uninspired.  This week, because seeds are on my mind, in my cupboard and in my ever-expanding middle-aged belly, I’ll tell you about them instead.

In February I mentioned that I had started making granola, and not very originally linked to a recipe I found on Orangette, which was originally posted on Food 52 and which has also been mentioned by David Lebovitz.  Everyone loves Early Bird Foods granola. I make it every few weeks and it’s become Jeff’s and my favorite weekday breakfast.  I like the way making this granola makes me feel, the way it makes the house smell and the routine of it.  I like the illusion of control granola gives me, which is not how I felt about it when I ate it during the years I lived in Northern California, a flakier time in my life.

Early June in Seattle can sometimes be like November in Seattle and it was so this week.  I was seeking comfort food and remembered Shakshuka, an Israeli dish of poached eggs atop sauteed peppers, onions and tomatoes, which I had made on Easter morning.  I got the recipe from Yottam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty and shortly after that, saw a different recipe for Shakshuka from Gail Simmons in Food and Wine magazine.  Trolling around the Internet this week, I found several variations of Shakshuka, including one recipe a devotee said was head and shoulders above the rest because of the addition of Hawaj.  Though I consider myself pretty savvy about international cuisine and the ingredients of the world, I had never heard of Hawaj.  It turns out it is a Yemeni spice blend, favored by Yemeni Jews.  I had fun reading about it in Claudia Roden‘s The Book of Jewish Food and then I decided to make it so I could add it to my Shakshuka. It really did elevate the quality of the dish.  Here’s the recipe I used, though Hawaj, like most spice blends, lends itself to individual interpretation.

Jeff called, as he often does during his sloggy long commute home, to see what was going on.  There had been a fair amount of adolescent drama, which had worn me down, and I think he was surprised, after telling me about his day and traffic woes, to hear that in my head, I wasn’t in my Seattle kitchen making dinner, I was in Yemen making Hawaj (There is some precedence for this.  I survived the baby and toddler years through culinary expeditions.  You’ll be able to read about it when my book comes out). He arrived home to find me catatonically smashing coriander seeds with my mortar and pestle and wisely did not judge me for my choice of distraction.  I wish I could say that I had been as non-judgmental when I found him staring catatonically at a basketball game on TV several nights this week in response to the “energy” in our household.

Our adolescents are wearing us down.  It’s the end of the school year, daughter #2, just finishing up fifth grade, has a sentimental case of “senioritis.”  Suddenly she’s best friends with all of her classmates, who will soon scatter to different middle schools.  Even the boys are nice. There are skate parties and trampoline parties and luncheons and barbeques and the dreaded FLASH (Family Living and Sexual Health) class.

Daughter #1 has been taking end-of-year tests, sending endless texts and has recently discovered Skype.  Remember how your mother admonished you not to tie up the phone line when you were a teenager?   “You just saw your friends a half-hour ago, why do you have to call them?”  That’s how I sound when I complain about Skype and D#1′s dominance of the computer.  Apparently she, too, will be taking FLASH, the seventh grade version, and I feel for the poor teachers who have to present this material to her randy middle school peers.

Unlike Everyone Else, who seems to have migrated away from Facebook towards Pinterest, I haven’t yet succumbed, fearing yet another Internet time suck.  Instead, I keep food magazines and recipes that interest me in a pile on top of my microwave and once in a while I actually go through them.  For months this pile has included a recipe for Dukkah, an Egyptian nut and spice blend that I learned about from the wonderful food blog The Garum Factory.  If you haven’t already, you should check out the Garum Factory.  In addition to its intriguing recipes, Ken Rivard is a marvelous writer (I keep telling him he should write history books) and his wife, acclaimed chef Jody Adams, offers useful, down-to-earth techniques by sharing her own recipe trials and errors with honesty and humor.

By mid-week the intensity level in the house was really beginning to get to us (Jeff and I even resorted to using our friend D’s technique of taming the females in his household: “Everybody calm the f**k down!”  If you’ve heard of my Battle Hymn of the Jersey Mother, you’ll know that this approach particularly resonates with me).

“That’s it, I’m making Dukkah!” I vowed.

I’ve learned that asking a teenager to shell nuts or fava beans is an excellent way to, in the words of Van Morrison, get down to what is really real.  D #1 dutifully shelled pistachios for the Dukkah and we had a calm, pleasant, enlightening chat before she disappeared to Skype her friends.  Jeff came home and, once again, did not judge when he saw that I had been pretending to be in Egypt.   That night, instead of watching basketball, he and I caught up on Season 7 of Weeds.

The next morning, as I ate steel cut oats with Dukkah sprinkled on top, D #1 confronted us about the hypocrisy of us watching Weeds, especially since the night before, over Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Dukkah, we had been probing for information about the drug scene at her school  (We were saved by the trademark family sense of humor.  D #1, knowing of my own struggles to fit in as a PTA mom, could see the humor in one secretly becoming a big-time drug dealer, yet still attending PTA meetings).

Middle school.  How will I survive having two kids in middle school next year?  Luckily, so many cultures have their own blends of spices and of nuts and seeds that I should be able to spend the next few years working through my frustrations.

Mother’s little helper

In fact, I like to amuse myself by imagining that Ras-el-hanout, Zaatar, Garum masala, Paanch phoran, Muesli and even Lowry’s seasoned salt were developed by weary mothers of adolescents, much as soccer, basketball, football and petanque were developed by men desperate to get out of the house.

There is growing number of Middle Eastern comedians, who delve into careful, but spot-on humor about their cultures.  I’m sure eventually one of them will follow Gallagher’s lead and remark that the region is like a spice blend.  Take the seeds of dissent, mixed with several dashes of courage and yes, a few nuts, and sweeten them with the taste of freedom.

Related links:

Pushing the Envelope Through Stand-Up Comedy

The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour

Yes, There are Comics in Qatar

I‘ve been on a technology tear lately, building a website and formatting an E-book.  On my to-do list is an overhaul of this blog, featuring a recipe page.  Stay tuned.

Good and Plenty

I’m not supposed to be writing this.  I’m supposed to be packing for that ski trip I told you about.

But I couldn’t resist telling you about a few good things that have come my way lately.

This is the granola I made this morning, inspired by the wonderful blog Orangette.  My horoscope for today recommended that I “make something with honey” (in 40-odd years of reading my horoscope in the morning paper, I have never been similarly advised) so maybe it was in the stars, but it took Molly Wizenberg extolling the virtues of homemade granola and providing me with a few great recipes to convert me.  The house smelled great.  Do yourself a favor — read Orangette.  And make your own granola (I haven’t yet tried the recipe you’ll find by clicking on the above link.  I used an earlier Orangette granola recipe, which Molly adapted from Nigella Lawson.  You can find it in the Orangette recipe index).

(I also made my own pancake mix, but we haven’t tasted it yet, so I’m not ready to share the recipe.  I snuck in flax seeds.  Shhhh.  Don’t tell Jeff and the girls).

While I was making the granola, I listened to a few stories from The Moth, the live storytelling project based in New York.  I learned about The Moth last week, when I was asked to participate in a Spoken Word performance on March 20, as part of the Ballard Writers Collective.  The stories I heard today were funny and touching.  I’m looking forward  hearing more from The Moth during our eight hour road trip.  (I’ll tell you more about the March 20 event later).

As you know, I’m interested in eldercare and in spreading the word anytime I hear of anything that makes life easier for the elderly and their caregivers.  This recent post from The New Old Age is just such a thing.  At a networking event this week, I met an eldercare advisor and was reminded of this growing business.  If you are caring for someone and feel overwhelmed, you can hire a consultant to help you navigate Medicare, find senior housing, etc.  Also, Jane Gross told me to tell you about her Facebook page, where she provides useful updates and information for fans of A Bittersweet Season:  Caring for Our Aging Parents and Ourselves.

Yesterday, at Costco, I found this fantastic Near East-inspired vegetarian cookbook.  I’ve read about Yotam Ottolenghi and Plenty in my cooking magazines and in The Guardian, and have even made some of his recipes, but I was unprepared for how blown away I have been by this book.   I want to cook and eat everything in it.  Tonight.  Instead of packing.

Finally, it’s no secret that there are a few places I would rather be going than skiing.  But, to paraphrase Adele in her beautiful cover of this Bob Dylan song (you can buy the live version on iTunes), I’d go to the ends of the earth for the ones I love (though eight hours in the car with a teen and pre-teen might be pushing it).

(Check out what Margaret Cho had to say in response to Karl Lagerfeld’s snipe about Adele after the Grammys. Thanks, Theo Nestor, for sharing it.)

That’s all, folks.  I’ll be diligently doing my physical therapy exercises and writing next week, and maybe even doing a little bit of skiiing too.

Happy President’s Day.

Blessed are the Turkey-Makers

There are serious post-holiday blog entries to be written about multi-generational interactions with family, making a difference in the world and whether you should make the same stuffing each Thanksgiving because your children and grandchildren will cherish the Proustian memories it invokes long after you are gone.

 I feel this way whenever I make sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top,

despite the fact that a certain person in my household scoffs at this paean to the Thanksgivings of my youth, even though he has a strong Proustian response to the ridges in jellied canned cranberry sauce.

I married him anyway and serve it beside the fresh stuff. (Our daughters diplomatically eat both “mom’s” and “dad’s” cranberry sauce, but let the record show that they LOVE mom’s sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, a dish I am confident will be eaten by my great-great grandchildren, long after the desire to eat anything from a can has been bred out of the family line).

Ideas for my serious post-holiday blog entry have been bubbling to the surface like soup dumplings for the past several days and I have been looking forward to setting them down on my screen and weaving them together.

But not today.  Today I am sick in bed.  In fact, I am typing this from my bed.  If you knew me you would be shocked to hear that I am in bed, as I’m one of those people who rarely gets sick and if I do, I keep functioning at full throttle.

Years ago, I began referring to people like me as turkey- makers:  we roll up our sleeves and pitch in without being asked,

We also know how to improvise

we make chicken matzoh ball soup for sick family and friends, we volunteer as a matter of course and we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves.

Not all turkey-makers are women and not all women are turkey-makers but, just as there seems to be a gender-related pre-disposition towards watching football and waiting for pie, the same can be said about turkey-makers.

Even when I’m not sick, one of my favorite ways to spend the day is cooking and writing.  So as a way to heal myself, since there is nobody around to make or bring me soup, I’m doing just that, with intermittent stints in bed.  Here are the highlights from a day in the life of a sick turkey-maker:

6:15 a.m. – begrudgingly awaken so I can make breakfast and pack lunch for the middle-schooler, who will surely complain about the injustice of having to get up so early after four days off from school.

7:30 a.m. – eye the butternut squash that did not get used during Thanksgiving weekend and peruse my many recipes for butternut squash soup.  Though I am sorely tempted by one I have not yet tried – Butternut Soup with Pear, Cider and Vanilla Bean from Molly Wizenberg’s book A Homemade Life, we have no cider and the goal is to avoid a trip to the store.  Instead I settle on the butternut squash soup from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey.  If you are looking for holiday gifts, I recommend this seasonally-organized collection of recipes that always seem to turn out well.  I also recommend Molly’s book, for the stories as well as the recipes, and her charming blog Orangette.

9:15 a.m. – buoyed by the fact that daughter #2 woke up and got ready for school without a fuss, I head off to aerobics class with plenty of tissues in my pocket.

9:45 a.m. – back home again after realizing that jumping jacks, throbbing heads and runny noses are an unfortunate combination.  I throw the butternut squash in the oven and get into bed with the Sunday New York Times and a mug of Darjeeling tea.

10:45 a.m. – I’m out of bed, the squash is out of the oven and I decide to finally get around to making the ginger molasses pumpkin bread from Food 52 that I’d meant to have on hand for our holiday houseguests. I’m hoping that this can be my new go-to pumpkin bread to replace Joan Mondale‘s pumpkin bread recipe that was given to me when I moved to Washington, DC in 1982.   I go back to bed with my computer.

11ish  a.m. – As the spicy smell of the pumpkin bread makes its way upstairs and manages to penetrate my blocked nasal passages, I feel as comforted as if there were a Jewish grandmother in the house.  The long-forgotten country- western song I’m My Own Grandpa comes to mind when I remember that I am both patient and nurse.

11:45 a.m. – The Food 52 recipe comments warn that determining the “doneness” of the pumpkin cake is deceptive and it is easily undercooked.  I leave it in for fifteen extra minutes and peel and slice the squash.

12ish p.m. – While the bread cools I make a package of instant Tom Yom soup bought and kept on hand for just such an occasion.  I notice the noodles are green and are made with morohetya, which I have never heard of.  I have a hunch, which is confirmed, that morohetya is another word for melokheya, also known as Egyptian spinach, and the eponymous garlicky soup, which is one of Egypt’s most popular national dishes and one of the world’s best soups.  I wish I had some now. (You’ll find two different recipes by clicking on the related links).

12:30 p.m. – My husband, who has many fine qualities despite his appalling taste in cranberry sauce, calls to say hi and when he realizes I am sick suggests I stop cooking and take care of myself. I partially follow his advice and call S., now fully recovered from  pneumonia, and ask her to bring daughter #1 to tonight’s soccer tournament game at the other end of town at rush hour.  I feel better already.

I’m pretty sure the pumpkin bread is overcooked.

Here’s where things get tricky for a sick turkey-maker. I got so involved in cooking and writing that I forgot to go back to bed.  The kids will be home soon, I still have to make the butternut squash soup and the biscuits I’d planned to go with them, which I forgot to tell you about and which may be overly ambitious, even for me.  I also need to put together the graphics and links for this post and manage to get some rest so I can head out into the world tomorrow and be a productive member of society.

But I don’t want to leave you without a recipe. Before we had kids and had to ration our cooking of spicy foods, our favorite recipe to cure almost all ailments was Armenian Chicken and Lentil Soup with Dried Apricots.  We used to keep a supply on hand in the freezer all winter in Tupperware containers labeled ACS. I think I got the recipe from the Washington Post in 1994 or so.  The bit of recipe sleuthing I just did (instead of going back to bed) indicates that this recipe may have come from a book called Chicken Soup Cookbook by Janet Hazen.

And in case you were worried, I managed to salvage the pumpkin bread by spreading it with Peach Preserves with Vanilla and Bourbon, made by Deluxe Foods and purchased at our very own Ballard Sunday Farmer’s Market.  Check out their website for holiday gift ideas (they ship) and places to purchase.

For all the turkey- makers out there, this one’s for you.

Armenian Chicken and Lentil Soup with Dried Apricots

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds

2 teaspoons each ground mace and cayenne pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup dried red lentils, sorted and washed

12 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup minced, dried apricots

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

1/2 cup lemon juice

salt, pepper to taste

In a heavy-bottomed 6-quart saucepan, cook onion, garlic, sesame seeds and spices in olive oil over moderate heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add lentils, chicken stock and apricots and bring to as boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to moderate and cook 40-50 minutes, until lentils are very tender. Add chicken and lemon juice and cook 5 minutes longer.  Season with salt and pepper and serve.

A well-loved recipe